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Cubs’ Dernier Looking for Better Things in ’86

Associated Press

It still hurts for Bob Dernier to talk about what happened to the Chicago Cubs last year.

“There’s got to be an asterisk next to last season,” the center fielder said. “Who’s ever seen anything like it?”

All five starting pitchers on the disabled list at the same time, so many injuries that the music for the team’s 1985 highlights film is the theme from “M*A*S*H.”

“It’ll be an easy year to remember and an easy one to forget,” Dernier said.

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In case anyone forgot, the 1984 National League East champions finished fourth last year, 23 1/2 games behind St. Louis.

Among the Cub veterans reporting to training camp at Mesa, Ariz., last week who are most anxious to start playing again is Dernier, who learned more last season about aches and pains than he cared to know.

After an injury-free career, a problem with his left foot flared up in midseason and sidelined him for a month.

When Dernier went on the disabled list June 15, the Cubs were tied for first place. Without their fleet leadoff hitter, Chicago’s offense slowed down. When Dernier returned July 18, the Cubs were in fourth place, 7 1/2 games back and fading fast.

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By the time the ivy had died at Wrigley Field, so had the Cubs.

“September was real bad,” Dernier said by telephone from Mesa. “We were out of the race, and there was no true incentive. I mean, you’re still trying to finish as high as you can, but . . . “

As soon as the last game ended, Dernier, nicknamed “White Lightning,” hit the highway and headed for his Kansas City, Mo., home. He drives like he runs and couldn’t wait to put the season behind him.

“It was, ‘thank you, officer, can you please hurry up with that ticket?’ ” he said with a laugh.

Nagged by his foot injury, Dernier batted .254--the team’s average--and stole only 31 bases in 1985. The year before, when he helped spark the Cubs to their first championship since 1945, Dernier hit .278 and stole 60 bases.

Along with the injury, Dernier also endured his first season without a pennant race. Dernier, 29, broke into the major leagues in 1980 with Philadelphia, which went on to win the World Series. In March 1984, he was traded to the Cubs, along with Gary Matthews, for pitcher Bill Campbell and a minor leaguer.

Dernier had follow-up surgery on his foot this winter for a problem that began a few years ago. The trouble was a bursa sac, something like a calcium deposit.

“They say it has healed wonderfully,” he said. “All indications are I should be OK.”

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Is the prognosis the same for the Cubs?

“If everything goes right, our pitching can dominate,” Dernier said. The team still has a starting rotation of Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Trout, Dennis Eckersley, Scott Sanderson and Dick Ruthven, plus relief ace Lee Smith.

The offense still features Ryne Sandberg, Leon Durham, Keith Moreland, Matthews and Jody Davis.

The Cubs will be the last team in the majors to hold a full-squad practice this spring, an attempt to hold down costs. The team begins its exhibition season Friday against Milwaukee.

“Who’s ever heard of playing a game two days after the first workout?” Dernier joked. “All I know is, I’ll be ready.”


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